Astronomers have used mysterious signals coming from deep in space to solve one of the universe’s puzzles.
Researchers used fast radio bursts – very intense, very short radio signals coming from a source that is still unknown – to find the universe’s “missing matter”.
Astronomers have long known that such missing baryonic matter must be somewhere, with models and research indicating that it has to exist. But for thirty years they have been unable to find it, which the scientists involved likened to a cosmic magic trick.
Now those signals have been used to locate that missing matter in the vast space between stars and galaxies, in a breakthrough new paper that relies on a technique that could go on to shed further light on other mysteries of the cosmos.
The researchers used the fast radio bursts to measure the material that they would have passed through on their journey between whatever extreme part of the universe has created them, and the Australian telescope that first detected them. By studying them with radio telescopes in Australia, they were able to measure how much matter they would have passed through on their way.
Researchers were then able to use optical telescopes to look at the galaxies that those fast radio bursts are being sent out from. That allowed them to be sure about how far those galaxies were – and by comparing those two measurements, they could understand the amount of material that must have been encountered on their journey.